Here are some practical tips on how to wade through the mass of travel information which bombards you daily so that you make the right decisions to secure the holiday you desire. And most importantly you are not misled and disappointed.
I don’t want this blog to sound negative, but as always I’ll tell it as it is so that you are well prepared! And hopefully you’ll get a laugh as well….
Firstly when planning a holiday you may see a travel advertisement which catches your eye, or you may be on the database of an on-line travel supplier and receive an email directing you to something new/special on their website. Or you may have gone into your local travel agent and collected some brochures on a destination that you are thinking of visiting.
Rule Number One: Read all carefully.
Rule Number Two: Read all carefully.
Rule Number Three: Read all carefully.
Rule Number Four: Ask questions if in doubt.
Rule Number Five: Ask questions if in doubt.
Rule Number Six: Ask questions if in doubt.
Sorry if I go on a bit here, but I know from my daily experience in travel that the general public is reading less and less about what they are buying. At least 50% of the complaints that I see in the weekend travel supplements are from people who just didn’t READ what they were buying, or didn’t ask enough questions.
This one I’ll get out of the way fast! The tour operator has employed a well known personality as their “face” in the advertising in the press and often on-line. They are a media personality, normally an attractive female, and someone who has perhaps hosted some travel programs. The important thing to realize is that they don’t personally select or recommend each tour that their face appears on. The tour operator pays them a fee and hopes that you’ll book the tour because of the standing/reputation of the personality.
Many special offers have very limited dates so you need to find these and evaluate them. In their large full page advertisements, some cruise operators love to bury the dates in the very very fine print in grey at the bottom of the page. Yes it may be cheap, but who wants a Danube cruise in November or luxury Mediterranean cruise between November and March?
Here I go again. 🙂 Any reputable tour operator will tell you very clearly exactly where you are staying each night. However If they just use words like “Highly regarded ” (by whom?), ” Superior ” (superior to what?), ” First Class” (hmmmmm – seen some very ordinary First Class in my time) or “Best available” (ha ha) then perhaps they have someting to hide. So I’d be asking why they weren’ t giving that info up front. Buyer beware.
I have just been looking at a LUXURY coach tour of Croatia and Slovenia followed by a Mediterrean cruise. After much digging on their website I found that they gave you the names of the hotels on 3 of the 9 nights – what about the others? And after more digging I found that the MSC cruise is in an inside cabin. LUXURY? I think not. READ!
Every tour operator uses their TOUR HIGHLIGHTS as a major selling feature and they will always place them prominently in their advertisement, website or brochure. They are of vital importance to you of course, because it tells you quickly whether it includes the places/attractions that you want to see/visit.
Just be aware that some use lots of PADDING to make it look like there is lots more of substance included than actually is – HAVE A LAUGH at these highlights on a France, Italy and Greece tour – * See the Eiffel Tower on a city tour of Paris * Take the high speed TGV train from Paris to Marseille * Visit Nice * Explore Monte Carlo * Stop in the Tuscan hilltop village of Lucca * Take a photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa * Experience the magical charm of Venice * Relax on stunning Santorini Island * Marvel at the beauty of Athens and Corfu…….Yes it’s all good stuff but most is what you expect to see anyway. So where are the real HIGHLIGHTS?
ITINERARY AND INCLUSIONS
The timing of the itinerary. Take a good look at the itinerary and see what is being covered each day. Most of us these days want more leisurely itineraries, but believe me, I still see many “shockers” out there – early starts, long days, rushed through top attractions with no time to enjoy, and evening arrivals at hotels. On a coach or rail tour, one night stays, sometimes unavoidable, should be the exception rather than the rule, and never back to back. And be aware that a two night stay still only means one full day at that location. If you are not happy with the timing of an itinerary keep looking.
And don’t be fooled – I still see this from many so called “top” companies who should know better. I saw a European tour recently which went Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, Monte Carlo, Avignon, Paris, Lucerne, Venice – all in 8 days!!! I call that a Motorway Tour. Ignore the name of the operator – read the itinerary very carefully.
Then if the highlight of your tour is to see the Great Wall of China, and you spend 4 hours travelling in a coach and 30 minutes at the Wall, then you will be very disappointed. A good operator will be able to tell you what time you leave the hotel, how long at the attraction and when you return.
The Inclusions. This is where it gets really serious! Recently I heard someone complaining about having paid an extra AUD 700 on a European coach tour for additional sightseeing, specialty dinners, folklore concerts etc. It was a budget tour with a very reputable company, but with minimal inclusions and 3-star accommodation which is never central. However, all that is very clear in their brochure. Always read the brochure carefully and always ask for a list of optionals that will be offered on the tour, as well as their cost.
“View” in a brochure means just that. You see it from the outside or at a distance as you pass by. “Visit” means that you go inside. But look at the timing of the tour to see how long you will be there.
And if there is an attraction on the route of the tour that you are desperate to visit, then check the itinerary VERY carefully. NEVER assume that you will visit a major attraction when in the location.
I know of one major river cruise company who takes you very near an amazing Roman aqueduct in southern France, but you don’t even get a glimpse of it. And a number of tour companies take you inside the Kremlin in Moscow, but whilst there do not take you into the museum in the former Armoury with the 10 Faberge eggs, Catherine the Great’s wedding dress, the crown jewels etc.
If you have your heart set on it, then you need to know whether it is included – or at least offered as an optional. So never assume.
Finally if you have to purchase dinners on a tour they will cost about AUD 30 in a 3-star hotel, AUD 50 in a 4-star and AUD 80+ in a 5-star. So take this into account when looking at the price of a tour. The more dinners that are included, the fewer you have to pay for whilst on tour.
Tour manager and local guides. The best tours have a professional tour manager who looks after the smooth running of the tour each day, and also gives you a running commentary as you travel. In addition, it’s often worthwhile to have local guides who have detailed knowledge of the area’s attractions. I would generally avoid cheaper coach tours with long days of travel looking out the window with no commentary from a professional tour manager. I like to know what I’m looking at – don’t you?
A FINAL TALE
This is sad but brings home my point – here is a recent complaint on TripAdvisor from someone who was very very disappointed –
R. W. (name withheld) Check cruise itinerary before going. We went with (well known Aussie company) and didn’t have time to get off ship at Santorini and pulled into Mykonos at 9.30 pm in the dark and left at 2.30 am. Thus we didn’t get to see it either. Very disappointed.